LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Fri, January 30, 2015 16:43:47
And, if it is so good, as the liberals say, then why has it not made far more
Whether pristine liberals are conservatives depends
only on how much liberty there is in the current status quo. Presumably, the T.H. Green-like neo-liberals from the 1870s,
and the Labourites too, are conservatives today. As liberty has been ebbing
since 1860, today’s liberals will look radical, or maybe reactionary as they
want to revive liberty that many might feel is to try to revive the past but
the aim is liberty not trying to revive the past which is never likely to be an
aim of anyone and would be futile if ever it was. Liberals today simply want
more social liberty, not only the liberty lost since 1860 but much more still.
Indeed, many liberals want to get rid of the state altogether. Whenever they
do, then they will become conservatives. Whether we are conservatives depends
on what we want to conserve.
Liberalism is clearly part, some even think the
whole, of basic morality, so there is a
sense that nearly everyone the last 3000 years, or more, were partly pristine
liberal, and had the basic idea that they should not impose on others without
consent, but they do not vie this idea with many other ideas that rival it, or
even see that many of those ideas are in competition, if not logically clash, so
most people do not see a need to vie our ideas for overall coherence, that many
people today might even think is an odd, or an extreme thing to do, if we are
not philosophers, and in this case, where we would have an extreme result of suggested
anarcho-liberalism, or, at least, that we cut back the state about as much as
we can, for many of the rival values held in current common sense today are not
compatible with social liberty, or even with basic morals, but indeed they clash
with morals. They are allowed only by tacit or unwitting licence or even with quite
explicit privilege. This privilege is often thought to be realistic if not quite
The LA members basically do vie their ideas, and
they throw out statism as a result, as it is based on this special licence and
privilege e.g. to kill and plunder in war. The LA wants to get all people to do
Pristine liberalism is just the quest for social
liberty, which is just the ideally civilised respect we all ought to have for
the liberty of all rather than just our own individual liberty, that we tend to
have naturally. This is basically just respect for all persons. I think we do
know the basic rules best here whenever boy meets girl, for that is where the
proper way we should treat others has received most attention in literature and
song over the last few thousand years.
We all like our own liberty, to be free to do what
we want to, and we all, more or less, tacitly know this, so being too bossy
when boy meets girl will rarely be used by either side during courtship. Savage
individual liberty is doing what you want regardless, but social liberty additionally
incorporates a civilised respect for the liberty of all others.
If ever bossiness emerges, from one side or the other, when boy
meets girl, later on, well after the honeymoon period in marriage, say, then it
will usually be seen as a fault, though the side at fault might not openly
admit to it, even when it is realised. We are often reluctant to admit that we
are at fault. The husband who attempts to dominate too much may well admit it
as a fault as may well the wife who nags too much after a time. Tolerance is needed and this tolerance of others,
especially of their liberty, is pristine liberalism; tolerance is a candidate
for the top liberal idea. But an important liberty is that for either side to reject
the other person when we no longer want to tolerate that person, or to never to
begin a relationship at all in the first place. All this is social liberty,
both sides being free.
So as we all accept the liberal idea as part of our basic
universal morals then a pristine liberal movement should be like going
downhill, as the people are all partly liberal already. It is in our basic
morals. Moreover the liberal idea is not only part of basic morality but is
haply the leading, or top, value in morality.
Social liberalism is merely showing consideration for the liberty or
persons of others. Why, then, have the liberals not, long since, won out? And then
why did it decline after 1860, [oddly, by evolving into almost its opposite of
statist neo-liberalism by extending the political power of the state] instead
of continuing with the steady progress with increasing social liberty up till
that time? Those are two interesting
questions. I will attempt to give the core answers to both below; but I suppose
a whole book might be written on either or both.
The answers to both have two aspects, first of
desirability and second of practicality. On desirability, liberalism may be the
top idea, but is it all that we want we want? Today, most people would say not
but the liberals tend to say it is.
The main answer to the first of the lack of speedy
progress has already been given: most people do seriously not vie
or mesh their ideas explicitly for consistency and coherence; they are rarely
energetic philosophers, but they do tacitly and naturally indulge in such thought a bit. But
the reason this explicit vying of ideas needs to be done is because, despite
the liberal idea being the top moral idea and the fact that aware moral ideas
normally trump rival non-moral value memes, or ideas, liberalism has many rivals: indeed he whole political
outlook is full of them. As already said, vying for consistently is seen as
extreme and current common sense holds any extreme to be error. But that is a clear fetish, as many extremes
are welcome by all e.g. extreme good health is just one example.
Most of the rivals to liberalism are old, as is the state
and politics. Tradition and conservativism are strong in any society as they
represent what has survived trial and error. So this gives most people to
settle for a common sense mix of ideas rather than rejecting the ideas that
clash with the liberal idea as the LAers do.
Standing as traditional is almost on par to successful
standing up to reason, as it is often thought to contain quite a bit of actual
testing by reason. This will be the tacit natural thought that most people will
have given whilst being mainly interested in other things that they are doing. What
ideally would be the case would be for most people to look at the main enemy of
social liberty, the state, with their undivided attention to see if it is
beneficial, as current common sense holds or whether it is anti-social as the doctrinaire
or ideological liberals hold to be the case. The liberals say that main result of vying our
ideas explicitly will be to reach liberalism, will be an anti-statist stance
that clashes with the state, which has a long tradition that stands as a
defence. This anti-state conclusion is a bit too radical for most people, at
least at first. They are interested in doing other things.
But even the statists, or politicians, also feel
there is too much apathy in society, or rather people are keen to do other things rather than look on the whole, that
they tend to think neglect being keen on the good things they suppose the state
can do. The local vicar thinks most are not keen enough on religion too. Why is
this? One major reason is that society has long since been based on the
division of labour that tends to train us to mind our own business and we tend
to do this in terms of play as well as work. Only philosophers tend to look at
the wood for even in science they are usually looking at mere trees. This means
that most people are not often interested in other things.
But few people
do vie their ideas anyway. Philosophers do tend to do so, but philosophy has
ever been popular, though we all indulge in doing a bit of it; even if it is
not realised to be such.
So most people settle for not being extreme liberals;
but they, nevertheless, do retain the liberal idea as their top moral value.
Such people accept the common sense idea that the state is basically good, so
the fact that, in politics, or overall state administration, the state employees
can not only do immoral things but that it might even be, given current common
sense realism, their duty to do such
things, as they are due to do so as part of their work for the state, and the
state is accepted as needed and good, is widely accepted as merely being
realistic. That politics clashes with liberalism is seen to be just the
practical limits of liberalism.
Common sense therefore allows different standards
for the state; the state is given license or privilege. Few think it odd that
the fictional spy, James Bond, is licensed to kill, for example, despite
holding that murder for the ordinary person is about the most immoral act that
could be done. The ideological liberal, who does vie his ideas, will think this
distinction very silly, as well as downright immoral. Why privilege the state
or politics? The pristine liberal sees
no reason as to why. But most people today do. They feel it is only practical
to do so. It is practical politics but is it morally right? Is politics itself right?
Pristine liberals tend to think not.
There are many other ideas that liberals oppose that
current common sense, whilst agreeing that the liberal idea is at the top, or
at least very nearly so, nevertheless, thinks the doctrinaire liberal ideology of
the LA is being way too extreme to use this top idea to negate as being
actually immoral. That, it is commonly thought, is to be so extreme that it is
almost descending into being mad.
This is the sort of thinking, that most people hold
today, is what helps to keep the pristine liberal movement at bay as being
wildly extreme and so slows its progress; or even fosters opposition to it. The
state is thought to be highly desirable, as tradition suggests it is so. Why?
Because the state is still here; we still have the state. That is enough to get
tradition on side for why did they not get rid of the state before if it is as
bad as the liberals say it is. It was
thought to be desirable in the past so maybe it is, on the whole, today. But only
a few philosophers, or quasi-philosophers, are willing to look at the whole and
to also explicitly vie their ideas.
Then there is the problem of practicality. Even the
LA itself is not completely an extreme anarcho-liberal group but rather it is
an alliance between anarchists and limited statists. The latter doubt if we even
can dispense with the state. Most liberals in the past have been like that,
indeed they have held that the state is basically good, but that the market can
do some things, maybe most things, better. Many LA members are still like that,
as well as nearly all the pioneers of modern liberalism since about 1500. But since
about 1700, actual anti-statist liberalism first emerged that saw the state as
evil rather than good, but still thought it a necessary evil. Tom Paine said it
was a necessary evil in Common Sense
(1776), as it was needed to deter and punish crime from those who do not
respect other people. Ideally the evil of punishment would never arise but as some
criminals are highly likely to offend, then this necessary evil will be needed
to deter them.
In the nineteenth century, some anarchist-liberals,
like Josiah Warren, emerged who greatly influenced J.S. Mill, who was a
candidate at being top economist and the top philosopher, not only in the UK
but even in the world, as well as being the top liberal in his heyday.
The LA has
all three types of liberals but not the statist neo-liberals who emerged after
1860, though the enlightenment paradigm propagandists often welcome them still
calling themselves liberals as they are critical of pristine liberalism, laissez faire but, oddly, not so often of
free trade; though both terms mean the same thing, i.e. liberty from the state,
but some authors, especially academic historians, have attempted to say there
is a difference, as they say that free trade is between nations whereas laissez faire is liberty within the nations;
they feel that means two distinct types of liberty! The neo-liberals do often
think they retain the liberal idea in their democracy, and they explicitly do
in their moral criticisms of others [indeed, in their basic morals] in being
against rape, and the like, but their rampant statism even within their democratic
ideal, shows up that they also have many delusions and inconsistencies in their
statist “liberal” creed.
Anyway, the pure liberal idea is rejected by most
people on the idea that its practicality is severely limited, especially in its
main opposition to the state.
Despite such common sense objections, liberalism
made steady progress up till the 1860s, but then, within liberalism itself,
there was a reaction. The Liberal Party never had accepted the anti-statist
meme within liberalism and when it formed a government, or an administration,
that aspect of liberalism not only seemed extreme but also quite perverse to almost
any member of the House of Commons [MP].
Many novelists and historians had earlier felt there
was more to the top Tory authors like Thomas Carlyle, his epigone Charles
Dickens, and his disciple John Ruskin who wrote against the commercial society
and the idea of free market or its utilitarian bourgeois outlook, especially the
chief utilitarian propagandist, Jeremy Bentham.
This Tory outlook was part of a wider Romantic reaction was against the
very idea of Enlightenment, that is associated with the liberal idea. J.J.
Rousseau began this Romantic reaction against the French Philosophes but soon Edmund Burke made this movement more
substantial with his attack on Richard Price and Burke soon converted many of
the 54 authors that wrote against him, like the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth,
to Romance. One result of all this was a lot of diverse propaganda that was
always effectively, if never quite explicitly, against liberty. Many in the
Liberal Party tended to agree with the MPs that more politics was needed to
counter this heartless laissez faire.
As the pristine liberal MPs got older, or died off, the switch from classical
liberalism to statist neo-liberalism was all but complete by 1900, with, maybe,
the sole exception of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.
A factor in this was the rise of the Fabian Society
from the mid-1880s onwards, that made the idea popular that socialism was to
the left of liberalism, to exploit the sense of progress that the early
pristine liberals like James Mill and Francis Place won from about 1800 on for
the liberal idea, and the Fabian had
success with this idea to the extent that, today, the modern mass media call
pristine liberal free market ideas right wing! Why? Because they oppose
statism! This very successful propaganda
group, the Fabian, followed up Joseph Chamberlain in his generational case against
Gladstone to replace pristine liberal ideas with the newer statist ones. This was
yet another clever emotional move to suggest that the future lay with statism
However, in 1886 Chamberlain left the Liberal Party
over Home Rule for Ireland, but, by then, nearly all the younger MPs that he
left behind were statists. Joseph Chamberlain’s innovation of statist
neo-liberalism was home and dry. The pristine liberal idea was in abeyance till
its slow revival beginning in the 1950s, but this time mainly as a moral
movement to get the public to think seriously about anti-social politics.
LibertyPosted by Nico Metten Sat, December 13, 2014 14:45:44
property is a sensitive subject in the libertarian community. It is
one of the subjects where libertarians just cannot agree what the
libertarian position should be. There are a lot of very vocal
opponents of the concept. While I think they have some valid
arguments, their radical case against all intellectual property
always failed to convince me. That is why I would like to lay down
some arguments of why I continue to defend the basic concept of
That is not to say
that I am a big fan of current intellectual property legislature. I
am a passionate anarchist, I want the state completely out of the law
production business. However there are forms of intellectual property
where I don't understand why we should get rid of them.
Before we start
arguing about the pros and contras, let us first start with defining
the main characteristics of intellectual property. Only when we are
clear about what characterises intellectual property we can identify
it when we see it. Intellectual property means the ownership of
information. This can be anything from music, design, literature or
in case of patents even the simple knowledge about something.
Characteristic of ownership is that someone has the exclusive right
so use, distribute or even change these information. As a
consequence, that means nothing else, but that the owner can prohibit
other people the use of his owned information.
characterisation is valid, my first thought is that I cannot see how
you can completely get rid of this concept. There is one form of
intellectual property that has been around for a very long time and
is essentially the basis of contracts. I am talking about what today
would be called a brand, that is the exclusive right of one company
to use a certain name for their products.
Why can we not get
rid of this? Let us take an example. Let us say we get rid of
intellectual property. Then, tomorrow every soft drink producer would
have the right to label their drink coca cola and even use the same
design as the current owner of that brand. How could you make sure in
such a world that if you have a contract with someone to deliver coca
cola to you that that person is delivering the right coca cola? I
don't see how. Words need to have a clear meaning in order for
contracts to make sense. Interestingly, opponents of intellectual
property are willing to admit that indeed a company delivering the
'wrong' type of coca cola would commit a fraud. However, they are
categorically denying that what we are dealing with is intellectual
property. But why is it not? If it is indeed fraud than that would
mean that one company has more right to call their product coca cola.
And if one company has more right to use these information then it
seems to fulfil the characteristics of intellectual property as
described above. As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck and
quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck.
I may be wrong, but
my impression is that opponents of intellectual property have such a
hard time calling this just that, because once there is a precedent
for intellectual property, the debate would change from if to how
much intellectual property we need. That seems to make them
uncomfortable for two reasons. Firstly, they have identified some
problems with intellectual property. And secondly, because of these
problems there needs to be a limit to intellectual property, but it
is hard to tell exactly where these limits would need to be.
Let us look at some
of the alleged problems. The biggest problem for libertarians seems
to be that intellectual property limits physical property rights.
Since intellectual property always needs a medium, the intellectual
property owner effectively has the right to control to some degree
how people use their physical property. This can go as far as to
control how someone uses his body when singing a song to which I own
This is a problem
because most libertarians seem to really be propertarians. That is
they think that property is liberty or at least that liberty is
defined through property rights. They seems to overlook that property
rights are just a strategy to maximise interpersonal liberty in a world of scarcrity. Interpersonal liberty in my view should be the ability
to do whatever you want as much as that is practically possible
without limiting the ability of others to do the same. If that is
true, then property is only libertarian in so far as it maximises this
liberty. Most physical property seems to do that. However, there can
very well be forms of property that do not serve that function and
should therefore be rejected. David Friedman points to a couple of
problems with propertarianism in his machinery of freedom.
If we were to live
in an ideal world without any scarcity, we would not need property to
maximise interpersonal liberty. Indeed, property in such a world
would limit the freedom of people. That means that if our goal is to
maximise liberty, we should only support forms of property that are
serving that purpose. And I would argue that there are forms of
physical property that do not qualify as libertarian and that there
are forms of intellectual property that do.
But is the
limitation of physical property really a unique feature of
intellectual property? It seems to me that it is a general feature of
property. When I own my body, a lot of Libertarians would say that I
should be able to do with it whatever I want. However, does that mean
I can slam my fist into your face? Of course not. Your face is your
property and I cannot damage your property with mine. My property
rights are always limited by other people's property rights. Property
as a social concept is therefore always limited by certain
boundaries. So the notion that unless I can do whatever I want with
it, it is not property seems false. The only debate we can have about
property is, how far should this concept go. So yes, intellectual
property limits the physical property rights of other people, as does
every property right. This should not be a criteria to reject it.
The real criteria
is, does it limit the liberty of people unnecessarily. I think in
some cases it does and in some cases it does not. I would argue
whenever intellectual property is needed to create desired content,
it clearly enhances the liberty of people.
Let us take an
example. Currently the last episode of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy
is coming into the cinemas. The first two episodes where already a
big success. People rushed to watch it in cinemas and bought it on
discs or as a download later. Therefore the third instalment will
predictably be another success. Clearly, the production of this film
makes a lot of people happy and they are willing to spend some money
to see it. The total production costs of all three films are
estimated to be about 561 million dollars. This is not because there
was a lot of wast of money, but producing a film like this really
costs that much money. But with copyright laws in place the film
will bring in more than enough money to compensate for these costs.
However, I cannot
see how this film would have come into existence if it was not for
copyright laws. What would be a possible alternative business model
to bring in that much money? In the dream world of the Hobbit it
would be hard to sneak in any advertisement, like letting him wear
the latest nike shoes or drive a certain Mercedes model.
Advertisement later also does not work. Why would an advertiser pay
to get the rights to advertise in the middle or before the film, if
he could just copy and distribute the film himself.
You might say that
this is a classical case of special interest policy. Why should
people be forced to pay for your film. If you cannot finance it
voluntarily then it should not exist. Of course I agree, people
should not be forced to pay for the film. However, the case is a bit
different here. We know that people are willing to pay for the film
voluntarily. The only thing that copyright laws make sure is that
those revenues go to the producers, so that they can be compensated
for their costs.
unnecessarily infringe on the liberty of copiers? I cannot see how,
for when the film is not being produced they would not have anything
to copy. So clearly they would not be better off without copyright
laws. In a nutshell, when this film is not being produced no one wins
anything, but a lot of people lose. This is exactly the difference
between this case and a special interest policy case like the famous candlestick makers petition from Bastiat. It is a 'everyone loses'
situation. How does that maximise liberty? Why should that be a
libertarian position? And if 'everyone loses' does not bother you as
a libertarian position then why not oppose property in general? What
justification is there for property if it wasn't for the fact that
property enhances everyone's choices in life. Not having property
would also be a 'everyone loses' situation. Economic progress would
be impossible and the scarcity would be greatly increased. But at least I
would not be restrained by the boundaries of other people's property.
In fact there are people calling themselves libertarians who do argue
against all property. To me, this seems silly in a world of scarcity.
Even the person who
is copying wins with this type of copyright protection. After all now
he has something to copy. He may have to pay a small fee, or he may
just do it secretly, but at least he has something to copy, which
clearly enhances his choices in life and therefore his liberty.
On the other hand
there are clearly bad intellectual property rights that should be
rejected from an interpersonal liberty maximising position. A good
example of bad intellectual property rights are rules like the
copyright still lasting long ofter the producer of it has died. This
is clearly not helping to produce more interesting content and
therefore infringes on other people's liberty unnecessarily.
This also addresses
another common argument against copyright. Which is that information
are not scarce. This is overlooking that intellectual property tries
to protect good, new information. Good intellectual content is very
scarce. If you argue otherwise then tell me where I can find the
information how to cure cancer. If it is not scarce, it should be
All other arguments
against intellectual property rights that I have come across are
essentially dealing with current wrong legislature of this idea. Yes
there are lots of problems here, reaching from silly rules to using
copyright as a tool for censorship. However, this is simply a general
problem of having a state running a society. We also have this
problem when it comes to physical property where the state provides
very unlibertarian concepts of what that is supposed to be. In any
case I believe, if you cannot protect your rights on a free market,
you probably should not have them. And if it were to turn out that
intellectual property rights are unenforceable in an anarchist
society I am certainly not going to call for the foundation of a
state to do so.
To sum up, I cannot
put myself behind the cause of completely abolishing intellectual
property rights. There definitely seem to be intellectual property
rights that are helping to create interesting new intellectual
content. This content is definitely enriching my choices in life and
therefore my liberty. I do not want to give up on that.
LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Mon, May 19, 2014 15:55:05
How much of a liberal
When I first
read A Theory of Justice (1971),
around 1975, the two principles of justice (p60) seemed, at once, to be anarcho-liberal,
even though Rawls was no witting anarchist but quite the contrary, he seemed to
have loved the state.
made a fuss about Kant I might have, back then, thought the same about Kant
too, for treating all persons as ends in the first place and only as means with
their permission, is indeed pristine liberalism: I do not want to use that ugly
long word “libertarianism” very much here [or elsewhere] but I agree that
liberalism since the 1880s has been taken over by statists, both the word and
the movement too. So the longer ugly word has, maybe, proved useful but I still
do not want to use it very often. Neo-liberalism did not all begin with J.A.
Hobson, but he was in the first wave of the true neo-liberals or statists.
Rawls wrote just as pristine liberalism was finally reviving.
[Far more on
the metamorphosis from pristine to statist neo-liberalism, and indeed about
Hobson, is due from me later on this blog, in the history section].
Oddly, it was only a few years back, about
2012, that the same thought did occur to me with Kant. That the pristine liberal idea has been the
top idea since about 1750 with almost one and all has seemed clear to me since
about 1970, though, even within the socialist movement! Clearly, most people
feel that rival memes restrict the liberal idea, especially where the state is
concerned. The state is clearly illiberal but most people feel we simply have
to have a state so they accept it scotching liberty as a mere practical
necessity. They effectively agree that the state can be licensed to kill, and
to abuse people in many other ways too. They privilege politics on the idea
that we simply have to be realistic.
differs from common sense just being consistent with treating one and all as
ends first of all whereas most others feel that we all need to be realistic
about the state. To be realistic they overlook that the state is licensed to do
many things that if done by the ordinary person would make that person a
criminal. This privilege allows most to feel that the liberal idea is compatible with the state. This is where the LA disagrees with the
general public. Most people do not vie
their ethical ideas. They do not bother very much about possible clashes of
ideas. But most people do realise that the pristine liberal idea applies fully
when boy meets girl. They show a full knowledge of it there; maybe because
literature and song has caused them to think a bit more about that sort of
friend of mine sent me a copy of “TGIF: What Social Animals Owe to Each Other”
by Sheldon Richman. He suggested to me that the article took a similar position
to me on Kant and liberalism. Other pieces that have read of this author seem
way too statist for my liking, even though I advocate toleration for statists
on the idea that they most likely feel we must have the state, even if it is
negative sum. They also might not realise how illiberal the state really is.
Most people do not. So statists should be tolerated. Tolerance is maybe the
chief liberal idea after all. Indeed, the LA is an alliance between
anarcho-liberals and minimal statists.
However, Richman has, hitherto, looked to me to be more like 1880s neo-liberal
Rawls or Hobson than like a statist LA member.
I never did
think much of common idea amongst many libertarians of the USA of reducing
pristine liberalism to non-aggression. Illiberal acts like theft do not usually
look like aggression, for example. But it does abuse those we steal from as it
fails to treat them as ends but rather theft just ignores their property rights
rather than being aggressive towards them. Moreover, reactive or defensive
aggression might be perfectly liberal. Liberals are near pacifists, but not
quite pacifists, as they reserve the right of self-defence. Richard Cobden got
John Bright to renounce his Quaker, or Society of Friends, pacifism to embrace
the liberal right of self-defence. Bright ran the risk of being expelled from
the Friends when he did so, but they did not expel him in the event.
wish to discuss what Richman says. He begins with:
“If I were compelled to summarize the libertarian philosophy’s
distinguishing feature while standing on one foot, I’d say the following: Every
person owes it to all other persons not to aggress them. This is known as the
nonaggression principle, or NAP.”
I would say that liberalism stands for social liberty. Thomas Hobbes felt we
had wild individual liberty in any case. Even if gaoled, whatever we do is
either a means to some end or an end in itself. This does not exclude criminal
behaviour. We always do have Hobbesian individual liberty.
John Locke thought there was a natural law, that God made, which all humans
could intuitively comprehend, though he feared most people were nevertheless still
going to be sinners, that would get them to respect an equal liberty of one and
all as being right, thus social liberty was this respecting of the liberty of
all human beings, even if the ethics, theology and philosophy of Locke puts
that meme in terms that might seem quite unreal to a modern atheist. Social
liberty is just respecting the liberty of one and all.
liberty is not only just no proactive aggression, let alone no aggression at
all. It is respect for any person as an end first of all. We need permission to
use any person as a means, thus we have no liberal right to use anyone as a
mere means without explicit consent from that person. NAP is not enough. But
treating others as an end is enough. To that extent Kant, like Rawls, embraced
the liberal principle, even if he did not see the clear-enough the
“What is the nature of this obligation?
The first thing to notice is that it is unchosen. I never agreed not to
aggress against others. Others never agreed not to aggress against me. So
if I struck you and you objected, you would not accept as my defense, “I never
agreed not to strike you.”
Even an explicit agreement rests on an unchosen obligation.”
Yes, we find rather than choose the moral law. Kant went back to Plato
in realising that ethics was a matter of Form or of abstract memes. Many of his
critics have thought that Form, or mere categories, were empty but we fill the
space with guesses, and the guesses need to be coherent but observation is not
applicable to ethics in the ordinary sense, thought the likes of J.S. Mil might
plea that we do observe the results of our arithmetic, which in on par with
ethics in this respect. The later Plato, thus his student Aristotle also, erred
when they threw out the Forms completely instead of revising them towards being
more realistic but the likes of Karl Popper and Roger Penrose have done well to
revise them more realistically in the twentieth century.
Karl Popper is roughly right with his materialist realms of world one
[W1] to do with matter, world two [W2] to do with mind and world three [W3] to
do with memes or ideas, though we can add an immaterial realm that is prior to those,
but that Popper might well have rejected, of facts, ethics, and the like that I
would call world zero [W0]. This latter is not only metaphysical but
ontological. Large brained animals may
well intuit moral rules in this realm of W0 roughly as Locke imagined for this
seems to be roughly what Locke was getting at with natural law, I would say but
it was not created, it seems not to an atheist like me, anyway. But it is a
realm that large brained animals are highly likely to discover. We create the
means to realise what there is [W3] but not ever the facts [W0] nor what there
is in matter or events [W1]. So Richman is right that the moral law is not
chosen. Nor is moral pluralism even possible, as the backward Politically
Correct [PC] adherents tend to assume.
Injustice is not material [W1] but it is finally a
matter of right, if not ever quite of fact.
We cannot make a science of ethics, as there is nothing that we can
observe, or to experiment on, any more than there is in mathematics; both use
only coherence for we cannot experiment nor observe. Moreover, we all do know
the basics of morals as young children, in that we can repeat what is right or
wrong, even if we do not quite adopt them as such. So no science of ethics ever
was needed by the masses though lots of realisation or adoption of them is
needed by very young children and even some adults. Ethics maybe only has the
role in study of getting some questioning adults to see that what the small
five years olds can usually repeat is adequate for society. Otherwise, ethics,
that needs to be very simple to be practical at all, is way too simple to ever be
a serious science. Any normal human being can guess the ethics content needed without
instruction from others, though all are free to think they might abuse others
by flouting what they are told is right and wrong. Socrates and Plato held that
if ever anyone adopted those simple ideas as well as just guessing the content
then they would, indeed could, do no wrong but Aristotle held that they both
flouted mere common sense there and most have agreed with Aristotle on that
“Even an explicit agreement rests on an unchosen obligation. Let’s say
you lent me five dollars, I refused to repay the loan, and when you demanded
repayment, I said, “Why am I obligated to repay the money?” You would probably
reply, “Because you agreed to repay me.” If I replied, “True, but when did I
agree to abide by my agreements?,” what would you say? If you said that failure
to repay constituted aggression, and I replied that I never agreed not to
aggress against you, we’d be back where we started.”
repaying a loan has nothing to do with aggression and not agreeing to honour an
agreement hardly implies a lack of agreement but rather it implies, at least,
some agreement. Richman seems to be poor when he overlooks that.
“Of course this would point the way to absurdity — an infinite regress
of agreements to keep my agreements. We would get nowhere. There has to be a
But why do we need any beginning?
Ontology does not seem to need one, even if material events do.
Different materials change in different degrees, but facts never do, though the
longer a person lives, the more facts he will know about his own life to put in
his autobiography, though most of us maybe think the actual mundane facts of
our past is not going to be interesting enough aid us much to write a book that
many others will ever want to read.
“If I were to ask, “Why do we owe it to others not to aggress
against them,” what would you say? I presume some answer rooted in facts would
be offered because the alternative would be to say this principle has no basis
whatsoever, that it’s just a free-floating principle, like an iceberg. That
would amount to saying the principle has no binding force. It’s just a whim,
which might not be shared by others. In other words, if a non-libertarian
demands to know why he is bound by the unchosen NAP, libertarians will have
answers. Their answers will differ — some will be more robust than others — but
they will have answers. At least I hope so.”
this bias in favour of grounding answers in facts or against mere assumptions
but the sceptics refuted this backing up, or grounding, idea about 2500 years
saw that any observation creates only an assumption; as does any valid
argument. Evidence can, in principle, refute but never quite back up any
means that our word means nothing. Richman looks confused there, as so many in
the colleges are. Few, if any of us, look to ground a promise that we will do
this or that in some justification beforehand. But justificationalists imagine
all sorts of such unreal prerequisites.
anti-liberal might not be immediately impressed by any answer that a liberal
can give as to why he cannot gratuitously attack others for fun, if ever he
fully feels it is all right to begin with. But few actual people are that
illiberal. The near ubiquitous golden rule, found in eastern authors, like Confucius,
as well as in Christian and pre-Christian authors, will normally have some hold
on almost anyone, anywhere.
George Bernard Shaw did have a pertinent criticism of the golden rule of “treating
others as we would like to be treated ourselves” for we are all different.
Indeed, a thug might accept that we treat each other others thuggishly but a
lady might insist in all personal relations being ladylike but that is not that
treating all persons as ends so much as two dysfunctional universal ways of
treating others. But liberalism dodges the Politically Correct meme that there
needs to be same treatment for one and all rather than holding that each person
has liberty and is to be treated as a personal end. So the liberal principle is
even better than the golden rule is. But the golden rule does ensure that we do
not wontedly attack others as we want no one to wontedly attack us.
“Now if we have an unchosen obligation not to aggress against others and
that obligation is rooted in certain facts, this raises a new question: Might
the facts that impose the unchosen obligation not to aggress also impose other
obligations? If one unchosen obligation can be shown to exist, why couldn’t the
same foundation in which that one is rooted produce others?
To the question “Why do we owe it to others not to aggress against
them,” I would respond along these lines: because we individually should treat
other persons respectfully, that is, as ends in themselves and not merely as
means to our own ends. But some libertarians would reject that as too broad
because it seems to obligate us to more than just nonaggression. They might
answer the question this way: “Because one may use force against another only
in defense or retaliation against someone who initiated the use of force.” But
this can’t be sufficient because it amounts to a circular argument: To say that
one may use force only in response to aggression is in effect merely to restate
the nonaggression principle. One shouldn’t aggress because one shouldn’t
aggress. But the NAP can hardly justify itself.”
NAP, on the
face of it, is completely pacifist for any defensive aggression is clearly
aggression. The alternative to a circular argument is an invalid argument. We
use logic as a test of coherence. We use observation as a test of truth. Neither
ever can back nor build a thesis up, as the Sceptics of old rightly saw. Deduction
tends to reduce valid content rather than to amplify by logic for valid logic
is all downhill. Justification is the will of the wisp.
clearly an inept idea of what liberalism
amounts to but Kant’s moral law idea, that Richman says he would answer as
being liberalism, does gives us liberalism as it is, free of property or of the
market, which both serve the liberal idea in our modern world very well but are
not of its essence even though they do clearly
both serve this liberal principle. Richman says Kant’s moral law justifies, in
some way, but that looks like a mere figment of his imagination. It is the
liberal idea rather than any justification of some sort, all of which are as
imaginary as unicorns. Nor is such a silly imagined condition needed. That is
just as well, as it is not available. But Richman lacks the wit to realise
Richman feels a justification is needed. He goes on:
“So we need a real justification for the NAP, and the one I’ve offered
seems like a good start. The NAP is an implication of the obligation to treat
persons respectfully, as ends and not merely as means. Of course this also
requires justification. Why should we treat other persons respectfully?
NAP needs to
be dumped rather than justified. Properly understood, it is a small part of
liberalism, but on the face of it, NAP looks pacifist. Anyway justification
never did exist. It is a mere superstition.
law requires no justification; nor does any idea. Justification is mere whimsy.
We should do the right thing as it is the right thing. But we can hear
criticism as to why some might feel it to be the wrong thing instead. Such
criticism should be welcome by any liberal propagandist. All ideas should be
tested, as far as possible, by criticism.
“Many libertarians, though certainly not all, approach the question of
just conduct — specifically, as it relates to the use of force — from egoistic
considerations, such as those provided by Ayn Rand. They say we should never
aggress against others because doing so would be contrary to our self-interest:
the dishonesty required by a life of injustice would be psychologically
damaging, and we’d eventually run out of victims.”
This is not
so far from the golden rule, which is very common around the world. It is
empathy rather than justification. Ayn Rand is hardly original in what she
says. As John Hospers reported, she hated anything remotely like thought, and
she was not even polite enough to read his book that he gave here on ethics.
She longed only for flattery. She was lucky enough to get it in superabundance.
There seems to be nothing else worth saying about her. Her books are hardly
“Socrates and Plato saw a problem with the first part of this answer. If
one could act unjustly toward others while appearing to be just, could unjust
conduct serve one’s self-interest? Egoistic libertarians can be asked the same
question. What if you could lead an unjust life with a guarantee of the
appearance of justice? Must dishonesty be damaging? The same people who would
say yes to that question, however, would also say that a person who spins a
complicated web of lies to keep the Nazis from learning he is harboring Jews in
his attic won’t suffer such damage. If that person can escape harm, why
not the unjust liar? Saying that one set of lies is for a good cause doesn’t
strike me as an adequate answer. How would a good cause save someone from the
harm of “faking reality”?”
Apart from flouting the moral law, which we might not like to do, it is
not clear that lying damages us, It does slightly abuse others, at least, maybe
it might sometimes badly abuse them too, though there are also many so-called
white lies that most seem to think are near-enough completely harmless.
“So it seems that a simple self-interest model doesn’t take us where we
want to go: to the unchosen obligation to respect people’s freedom, or more
broadly, to treat persons as ends and not merely as means. I would be a little
uneasy if a libertarian told me that it is only his self-interest that prevents
him from clubbing me on the noggin and making off with my wallet.”
Well, any liberal will usually want to respect social liberty as an end,
ipso facto. It hardly matters why one
embraces liberalism in the first place but the chief reason might be that it is
the only coherent morality and that it might one day get explicit universal
agreement, thereby solving problems that the state gives rise to like the
problem of war.
“And yet, self-interest still might provide an answer. Roderick Long
tackles this problem in his extended essay “Reason and Value: Aristotle versus
Rand” (PDF). What Long shows, to my
satisfaction at least, is that Rand’s notion of self-interest as expressed in
her nonfiction essays is too flimsy to support the libertarian prohibition on
aggression and the general injunction to treat people respectfully. To be more
precise, Long shows that Rand’s explicit writings on ethics are a tangle of at
least three different and inconsistent defenses for the nonaggression principle
(one of them Kantian — how’s that for irony?).”
But this support, or the need for it, is all imaginary anyway, Long and
Rickman are as backward as Rand was in that respect. The liberal principle does
float free of any foundation, as does all other memes; including all those used
in science. And liberalism is the respect for one and all, thus for their
liberty rather than only about everyone being free from gratuitous aggression.
Richman now takes a detour into confusion:
“Before we get to this, however,
we must invoke an important distinction that Long emphasizes: instrumental
versus constitutive means to an end. An instrumental means is external to the
end. A constitutive means is intrinsic to the end; we can’t imagine the end
without it. Long uses the example of a man dressing up for evening out (where
“dressing up” includes a necktie). Shopping for a tie is an instrumental means.
Wearing the tie is a constitutive means — it is part of what we mean by
“dressing up.” One can dress up without shopping for a tie, but one cannot
dress up without wearing a tie.
We can look at justice, which includes respect for other persons’
rights, in both ways. Does respect for their rights serve our self-interest merely
because we would earn good reputations and others will cooperate with us? (This
is Thomas Hobbes’s position.) Or is respecting
their rights also a constituent of living a good human life? The answer
is crucial. In the first case, one’s self-interest could be served by acting
unjustly so long as one could appear to be just. In the second case, one
could not flourish by acting unjustly even if one could go undetected. As
Socrates suggested, it is preferable to live justly with a reputation for
injustice than to live unjustly with a reputation for justice.
Long shows that Rand has both instrumental and constitutive elements in
her nonfiction writing on ethics; in some places she says a person’s goal
should be survival, while in other places she speaks of survival “qua man.” It
isn’t entirely clear whether individuals should aim at the longest possible
life regardless of the type of life or at a particular type of
life regardless of its length. (Her novels appear to take the latter position —
suicide is even contemplated by heroic characters.) If it’s the first, then
violating someone’s rights might occasionally be to one’s self-interest.
Imagine that at 4 a.m. you pass an alley in a deserted part of town where a man
is passed out and a hundred-dollar bill is sticking out of his pocket. The
chances of getting caught are zero. Do you take the money? If not, why not? An
instrumental model of justice should say to take the money. A constitutive
model would not.”
Richman errs badly here for what idea of justice would ever endorse
theft? Hobbes might say it is not just as there is no justice in a state of
nature but he will not say it is actually just, or morally right, to abuse
others in a state of nature. Richman as tied himself up with this irrelevant
distinction between what is constitutive and what is instrumental and he has
fallen into this muddle owing to a search for an impossible foundation that is
not possibly available; or ever needed. Liberalism is clearly about our end of
social liberty for all not about any instrumental means.
Richman then says:
“It might be said that a rational person acts on rational principles
even if in particular cases his or her self-interest is not served.”
But here we are on about liberalism, not Hobbesian individual freedom,
which has no need to respect others, but rather a social liberty with the ain
to respect a similar liberty for one and all. Richman seems to forget that in
his attempt to make some sense out of Roderick Long.
“But Long points out that such “rule egoism” ends up being no egoism at
all, since the rule is followed regardless of its consequences. This approach
is deontological, not teleological, as Rand would want it. So the reply is
Yes, liberalism is deontological but then the idea that utilitarianism
describes another rival moral law is fanciful. Natural rights describes the
same moral rules as does utilitarianism, as Joseph Priestley repeatedly pointed
out in the eighteenth century; but his supposed epigone, Jeremy Bentham, lacked
the wit to realise that when he went on about natural rights being nonsense on
stilts. The difference was merely in the choice of words rather than in what
the likes of Locke were referring to out in the world to by natural law. As
Hobbes said, words are mere counters rather than actual money.
Many say they cannot find “the greatest happiness of the greatest
number” in Priestley’s writings but Priestley may well have reached more people
by talking than even he did by his many books.
He was a one man eighteenth century open university.
“What are the grounds for accepting the constitutive model of virtue,
There Richman goes again, looking for imaginary grounds, or foundations,
when there can be no such thing. And
there never were any such thing, as the sceptics made clear 2500 years ago.
Richman goes on:
“Turning to Aristotle, Long
For Aristotle, a human being is
essentially a logikon animal and a politikon animal.…
To be a rational animal is to be a language-using animal, a conversing
animal, a discursive animal. And to live a human life is thus to live a life
centered around discourse.”
If Aristotle held that reason required language then he merely over
Most thought is tacit.
Richman goes on:
“Our nature as logikon is thus closely allied with our nature as politikon.
To be a politikon animal is not simply to be an animal that lives in
groups or sets up governments; it is to cooperate with others on the basis of
discourse about shared ends.…”
If Aristotle held that man was a political animal then he over-rated
politics too. Most men have always been apathetic about both religion and politics.
Anyway, politics is about proactive coercion rather than free
co-operation. Politics is intrinsically illiberal. It is anti-social rather
than the social boon that Aristotle imagined that it was. The state needs to be
cut out if all are to be treated as ends. If this cannot be quite done then it
needs at least to be rolled back as much as is possible.
“Being politikon is for Aristotle an expression of being logikon;
just as logikon animals naturally conduct their private affairs through
reason rather than through unreflective passion, so they naturally conduct
their common affairs through public discourse and rational persuasion, rather
than through violence.…”
But all politics is about proactive coercion or government, if not open
violence. Gratuitous coercion, that politics always involves, certainly risks
open violence. Here Long, and Richman too, is overlooking that politics is
always unfree, that it is about coercing others proactively or gratuitously, always
about abusing people by ignoring that they are personal ends thus politics is
The two authors concerned here, Long and Richman, also hold that the passions are free of
reason, and that is false too. They hold that reason is social, but that is
never quite the case. We think as we die in an individual way, thought others
usually do aid us in thought if not with dying. But even a great teacher cannot
do the thinking for us entirely, no more than a good cook can usefully eat for
us. Hobbes was right on the biological units of humanity for we are all
We discover and shape our passions though thought, for there is no
thought-free passion that neglects how the world seems at any one time to the
thinker, as the Stoics rightly saw back 2500 years ago.
Locke was roughly right when he said the natural law was for respecting
the liberty of one and all and Kant that we should be all respected as personal
ends rather than as mere means, as Richman rightly endorses,
“Thus, Long adds, “To violate the rights of others, then, is to lessen
one’s humanity.… To trample on the rights of others is never in our
self-interest, because well-being cannot [quoting Aristotle] ‘come about for
those who rob and use force.’”
One’s goal is to flourish by achieving excellence in those things that
make one human — Aristotle says that “the task of man is a certain life, and
this an activity and actions of soul with logos.” One cannot flourish if
one lives in a nonhuman way. If this sounds like Rand, it’s because her
fictional characters understand it, even if her nonfiction essays do not
express it unambiguously.
A truly human life, then, will be
a life characterized by reason and intelligent cooperation. (Bees may cooperate
after a fashion, but not on the basis of discourse about shared ends.) To a logikon
animal, reason has value not only as an instrumental means to other goals but
as an intrinsic and constitutive part of a fully human life; and the same holds
true for cooperation. The logikon animal, insofar as it genuinely
expresses logos, will not deal on cooperative terms with others merely because
doing so makes others more likely to contribute instrumentally to the agent’s
good; rather, the agent will see a life of cooperation with others as an
essential part of his own good.
Aristotle’s book on friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics
beautifully elaborates on this point. Long and Neera Badhwar’s article on Rand
at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is also worth
reading, especially the section on virtue, vice, and
But Aristotle endorsed the city state, that was illiberal in its use of
coercion. Ayn Rand thought she could have a state without taxation, but it is
far from clear whether we ever can, and even about half of the LA membership
might hold that anarchy is either impossible or undesirable but that the
anarchist members are going the right way, even if they are deluded that we can
ever get rid of the state entirely. The statist LAers tend to hold that
liberalism is a mere ideal, that cannot be completely achieved, but that is still
useful, as it is good to try to get as near to the liberal ideal as possible. They
held that the smaller the state, or the lower that taxation is, the better. We
might not get complete social liberty, but the nearer we got to it the better,
those statist LAers may well hold. But they tend to thereby agree that the
state, or that government itself, is intrinsically illiberal; that to govern people
is thereby to scotch treating the governed as proper ends.
“If this is right, we owe respect
to others’ humanity, via respect for their rights, because the activity
manifesting that respect is a constituent of our own flourishing as logikon and
politikon animals. We owe it to ourselves to owe it to others. This Aristotelian
insight points to an interpersonal moral realm in which the basic interests of
others meld in important ways with our own. “To the extent that we are logikon
animals,” Long writes, “participation in a human community, together with a
shared pursuit of the human good, is a constitutive part of a truly human
But does this show that we owe anything more than nonaggression?
It seems so. We abstain from aggressing against others because, as logikon and
politikon animals, we flourish by engaging the humanity of other
individuals. Clearly, abstaining from aggression is not the only way to engage
their humanity, just as aggression is not the only way to deny their humanity.
Thus these Aristotelian considerations entail the obligation to treat others
Maybe, but there are also people who do not like company every much and
liberalism allows them to refrain from joining in. To treat such people as ends
we need to respect their liberal right to remain on their own. The
scientist, Henry Cavendish, is an example of such an eccentric from the history
of science. Cavendish was basically friendly but also very shy in that he hated
company. He was always willing to lend out books but he would prefer not to
meet to do it, so he arranged to put the book in a certain place at his home so
the borrower could collect it at a later time without ever meeting him.
Richman goes on:
“One last question remains: Is this obligation broadly to treat other
persons as ends and not merely as means a libertarian matter? It is, at
least in this way: The obligation broadly to treat other persons as ends and
not merely as means is validated by the same set of facts that validate the
This looks like a mere delusion, as there is no process of validation of
mere assumptions. We can test them by logic or observation as best as we can,
but we are thereby testing for truth or coherence, that the assumptions must
have prior to any test, rather than epistemologically promoting them by later
work that we do on them in some way. So any achievement of truth is by mere
assumption itself. We have no ability to promote any assumption by use in
science or epistemology.
Later tests simply attempt to see
if we have the truth. We cannot deny that, though it passes all tests, the
assumption might still be false. As this might be so, we all do have the
Popperian duty to always try to refute our own pet ideas.
We can get others to attempt this for us by entering into debate with
them, where we usually return the favour by attempting to refute their ideas.
No matter how eristic debaters argue, or how hostile they feel towards each
other personally, the institutional aim of all debate is at the truth.
“Nonaggression is simply one application of respect. Thus a libertarian
society in which people generally thought that nonaggression was all they
owed others would be a society that should fear for its future viability qua
Non-aggression is inept in many ways, and it is certainly not
liberalism. Kant’s idea that Richman adopts by implication is, but note that
Kant never saw it as such, no more than Rawls did his social contract version
of it. It is way better at summing up the liberal idea than the non-aggression
slogan, but no words exclude some misunderstanding. The cited slogan suggests
pacifism but that is not meant by those who say it. They mean only no
gratuitous aggression. The Kantian words are way clearer as well as way more
comprehensive. They also show it is about people not about mere property, which
is another all too common misunderstanding of the liberal idea.
Richman goes on:
“Finally, I’m sure libertarians do not have to be reminded that
nonaggressive affronts against persons may be responded to only in
nonaggressive ways. Neither governmental nor private force may be deployed to
counter peaceful offenses. Why not? Because the rule of proportionality
dictates that force may be used only to meet force. In other words, some
obligations are enforceable and others are not.
(While thinking about this article, I profited mightily by conversations
with Gary Chartier.)”
Richman is right to reject the misleading non-aggression meme in favour
of the Kantian meme of treating of one and all as a personal end. Kant was far
from being a consistent liberal, but he was, as were maybe most people since,
or even before his day, to our own, a liberal of sorts but also way too
tolerant of many illiberal ideas too, to further the liberal paradigm very much.
Kant was no liberal propagandist. Toleration is maybe the chief liberal idea
but it cannot viably tolerate the negation of social liberty much and still survive
as such. It must try to insist that others are not abused but that is not only to
have mores against gratuitous aggression but also no other abuse of people such
as theft or cheating. So tolerance is a major liberal virtue, maybe even the
chief liberal virtue, but it is not tolerant of illiberal activity if ever we
can get rid of it.
Kant famously said that he would sooner see the world destroyed rather
than to tell a lie. That was ironically
not particularly honest of him! It was the sort of white lie that was sheer hyperbole,
but did not seem to cheat anyone. What Kant would have most likely have seen as
too extreme is to advocate, wittingly and openly, the sort of liberalism that
the LA advocates but to do so is way less eccentric than the fuss he made,
inconsistently, over mere lying.
All illiberal acts are not equal, as Richman says in his conclusion, for
some are trivial but others may be as grave as murder. No nation-state has been
unwise enough to outlaw lying, as far as I know, but all that I know of do
outlaw murder. Kant would not have needed to be as extreme as he was about
lying to be the sort of liberal propagandist that we badly need today to roll
back the state. But Kant was no liberal propagandist. So, like most people, he
held the liberal idea as a moral idea but he was not enthusiastic enough about
it to advocate it as the solution to many problems that faced the people of his
day, problems that still faces people today, as they are owing to the dysfunctional
nature of the state. Like most people, Kant
was basically liberal, but only in a passive way. However, his formulation of
the moral law is clearer than the non-aggression slogan as a short way of
presenting the liberal idea.